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The case of Hamza Kashgari: When political oppression masquerades as the defence of Islam

with 10 comments

This piece has also appeared on the “Index on Censorship” website, here and the Huff Post Blog, here

The case of Hamza Kashgari has entered a new and deeply worrying phase as Malaysian authorities have deported the 23-year-old journalist back to Saudi Arabia, where he currently risks execution. There has been widespread and rightful opprobrium of the Saudi government’s response but few seem to question the official Saudi line that their indignation at alleged blasphemy is behind the call for the death penalty. Specifically, the government claims Hamza’s tweets, in which he appeared to express irreverence for the Prophet, is the source of its vendetta.

The tweets represented an imaginary conversations with Prophet Mohamed, in which Hamza expressed both admiration, reproach and confusion around his person: “On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you”, he stated. Few have questioned whether the charges are actually a front to stifle discussion over broader political issues, which Hamza raised in other tweets and writings. According to Hamza himself, he is part of young generation of Saudis who are increasingly resentful of the state’s intransigence and seemingly willing to risk official wrath in expressing their views. “It’s not logical that, if someone disagrees with the Saudi government, that he should be forced to leave the country. Many of those who have been arrested are fighting for simple rights that everyone should have — freedom of thought, expression, speech and religion.”

We shouldn’t be duped by the feigned umbrage –the masquerade of religious offence is a poorly constructed artifice to continue to limit the basic human rights of Saudi nationals, including freedom of speech and gender equality. Fostering a climate of fear and oppression is the best guarantee of compliance and Islam is traditional rallying cry for the masses, ensuring public support at a time of broader upheaval. The Monarchy is particularly concerned about dissent at a time where the region has been rocked by protests which have seen longstanding despots ousted and others relinquishing political concessions to avoid instability. One of Hamza’s tweets was an acerbic critique of the hornets’ nest of the status of women in the kingdom, which the monarchy is keen not to see stirred up, particularly in the wake of the on-going campaign by Saudi women to challenge a longstanding driving ban. It is entirely likely that Hamza’s tweet that “No Saudi women will go to hell, because it’s impossible to go there twice” along with his broader critiques of the regime, are at the real root of the government’s fury.

Saudi Arabia loves to present itself as the defender of Islam and justifies much of its unacceptable legal and political repression through the prism of religious exceptionalism. The reality is that fewer and fewer Muslims look to Saudi Arabia as reflection of Islamic values and many more support the young generation of Saudis’ struggle for basic human rights. The current controversy is an opportunistic attempt to rouse Islamic sentiment for a profoundly illegitimate dictatorship, whose shameful abuses of power cannot and should not be masked by the ill-fitting ‘defence of Islam’. All Muslims love and believe in honouring Prophet Mohamed and the best possible way to reflect that love it to uphold the model of tolerance and mercy which he preached. If Saudi Arabia executes Hamza, it will be in the name of perpetuating its fundamentally un-islamic political oppression and nothing to do with the compassionate model of the Prophet, whose name they claim to be acting upon.


Written by Myriam Francois

February 12, 2012 at 21:31

10 Responses

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  1. This is the truth.


    February 13, 2012 at 04:18

  2. Definitely.

    I would like to share what I reflect on reading Hamza’s tweets. He is speaking about his relationship to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and he explains how he struggles to understand the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, something which is understandable considering the Prophet’s ﷺ stature and mystery. He says there are things he admires about the Prophet ﷺ and also says he hated certain things about the Prophet ﷺ.

    What does he hate? It is not clear. Perhaps he hated the Prophet’s hunger? Or his poverty? Or his trials? Would that be a bad thing to hate and blasphemous in nature? Probably not. Our Prophet (salallahu alayhi wasalam) commanded us to ward off the hudud with doubt and to make excuses (even though as your article points out Saudi Arabia’s problems make it a poor candidate to be implementing hudud/Sharia). He said in another hadith we should intercede before news of a crime reaches the authorities and some of the Sahabas would shelter and hide alcoholic Muslims from the Muslim authorities in charge. This is all out of mercy and compassion.

    The reaction seems to be a case of Saudi authoritarian literalism blowing a fuse. Hamza wrote what they call in Arabic a “munajat”- poetically expressing his difficulties out of a confidence and trust in Allah and His Rasul (salallahu alayhi wasalam). Its therapeutic and contemplative much like a dua. Shaykh al-Islam Zakariyya al-Ansari wrote the Munajat for example.

    Another thing: just because it came from his Twitter account, does it mean he actually said it? Did somebody else type it in? So there is doubt there, again.

    Dawud Israel

    February 13, 2012 at 06:40

    • ws wr wb Dawud,
      I very much agree with you, thanks for sending your detailed response, I learnt a lot alhdmlah!


      February 13, 2012 at 10:21

  3. It’s a real shame…we even know Rasul stood down his companions when they wanted to cut down someone cursing God himself…it seems patience and wisdom is all but gone from their authorities.


    February 13, 2012 at 11:20

  4. firstly as a mum my heart aches for this boy but secondly as a uk citizen what can i practically do apart from the signing of petitions and highlighting this case? Saddest of all is the way i view the prophet as a simple honest man who would not want this happening in his name

    Lori Homayon-jones

    February 13, 2012 at 14:14

      • Hi Myriam, How is Prof Tariq Ramadan these day? Hope your keeping well, you still at Oxford?

        I think Extremist or literalistic Muslims forget the initial visit of Mohammed pbuh to Ta’if , were he was ridiculed and escaped an attack bleeding into his shoes, and When Gabriel said he could wipe them, (the inhabitants of Ta’if) out, Mohammed responded by saying NO, leave them be! As a result they slowly came in there thousands to Islam.

        Such was the compassion of Mohammed pbuh, who is like the moon receiving light from the sun, inspired to reflect the merciful and compassionate attributes of the Divine.

        I also recall the lady who used to insult and throw her rubbish on Mohammed pbuh on a daily basis, and he would think nothing of it. When she got sick he visited her and she was shocked so shocked by Mohammed compassion that she wanted to accept Islam.

        I remember the story of the man who was lost, who had had sex with his wife during the daylight hours of Ramadan, and broke is fast, yet Mohammed smiled at him and treated him like he was a human and sent him home to his family with food, as the man had no food to give to the poor but his family were hungry.

        Or the Muslim man that loved wine, and when the companions dragged him to Mohammed pbuh, complaining that he should issue takfir on this drunk Muslim. Mohammed pbuh pointed to the drunk man and informed the companions that “this drunk man loves God, and the prophet of God”! so leave the drunk man alone.

        OK that’s my 2pence worth … Peace & Love
        Abbey xxx

        P.S I assume I need to write a letter to King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, in relation to Amnesty International campaign?


        February 23, 2012 at 19:08

  5. Dawud, that’s not the point. If you’ve been reading the local Saudi media and other outlets, it’s the people who demanded that Kashgari ought to be killed or put on trial. On the morning of the 3/4th day the King announced that he should be tried, in an attempt to appease the outraged masses, however, by the afternoon he had fled the country! It’s obvious that he was made to leave in order to avoid the problem exacerbating any further.

    All this comes at a time when the Prince Na’if made a speech in which he prided over the country’s commitment to “salafism”, that the country is a Salafi one. Yet one can be certain of this local Saudi kid, who commented thus on YouTube:

    الى عبيد ال سعوود الذين يقولون ان نايف ال سعود بطل السنه ههههههههههههه

    لو تكلم حمزة كاشغري على ال سعود فهل ستظنونه سيبقى حر طليق ام انه سيرمى في السجن ويقتل مثل ماقتل ال سعود الكثير منم المشائخ واعتقل ال سعود الكثير مثل يوسف الاحمد عشان ققط اسائوا الادب على ال سعود كما يدعي ال سعود

    I’ll translate it literally:

    “To the fans of Al-Saud who say [Prince] Na’if al-Sa’ud is the hero of Sunna, hahahaha

    If Hamza Kashgari was to criticise Al-Sa’ud, do you think he will remain free or do you think he’ll be thrown into jail and killed, like the Al-Saud have done to many of our Scholars? Al-Sau’d have jailed many, like Yusuf al-Ahmad ‘Asshan simply because he [allegedly] disrespected Al-Sa’ud, as is claimed by Al-Sa’ud.”

    The truth is that liberals like Turki al-Hamd, Kashgari et al. have got away with far more than Muslim scholars ever have — a grievance that Bin Laden made long ago, “why is it that members of the Prophet’s family are behind bars whilst Americans are free to roam in our lands?”

    There’s a monopoly on freedom of speech in this respect that no “exilic” or Western writer has commented on. Shameful but not unsurprising.

    Lastly, Dawud, it seems that you’re not aware of the scope of the principle or that you choose not to engage with it. I don’t disagree with it, after all I’m Hanafi 🙂 , however, how do you explain reports where Companions killed others who blasphemed the Prophet to *literalists* and a country who prefers the positions of the Hanbali school and, in particular, Ibn Taymiyyah?

    The report where a man killed his wife for blaspheming *without raising the issue to court* is well circulated in those regions. The Prophet proclaimed, “bear witness, her blood is justified”.

    I do admire your attempts absolve Kashgari from the allegation, nonetheless. I’m not sure, however, if everything he has said in the past has been in the manajaat form. As for your last question: it was him because he responded to others that raised questions, as did his friends retweet in the name of “defending freedoms”, and later sent tweets of repentance. Why would you write up a statement of repentance about something you didn’t do? Salam.


    February 23, 2012 at 14:00

  6. I’m a Saudi National and I thank you dearly for speaking for us dear sister.
    May God bless you and your loved ones.


    February 26, 2012 at 04:02

  7. 1- in Sharia when it comes to blood (ppls lives) or dignity&grace we are always cautious and this is not something like the impurity of blood or …. Actually Allah has explicitly voices concern (in Quran) over Human lives as if you kill an innocent man it is equal to killing human being altogether.

    2- i looked into the sayings of the prophet and i couldn’t find “حدیثٌ متواترٌ لفظی/معنوی” on this issue, there were all “خبرٌ واحد” and some of them were irrelevant to this issue ((but has been claimed relevant by some scholars)). i believe that if we can not be sure that prophet really has done or approved it then we do not have any “حجة” before God.\ to kill a person.

    3- as a matter of fact, i am not buying to the idea that with some single individual narrations we can ascribe to Islam and Prophet anything that has rational and essential ugliness/badness until we become sure with frequently narrated traditions (without any contradiction of arguments/proofs) that Allah has really wanted us to do so. if we agree that God has created people with this understanding of ugliness/badness of killing&… (for example) then we should have strong proof to stand against our “فطرت”/natural spirit in order to agree that God has wanted us to disregard his own creation which in one verse is claimed to be the essence of religion.
    (فاقم وجهک للدین حنیفا فطرت الله التی فطر الناس علیها)
    30/30 Quran

    4- we should review our erstwhile scholars views on important issues like this and see if we can justify our actions to God by our beliefs not by quoting their beliefs. we have to use their knowledge and read their books but this is us who will be taken accountable for our deeds before God, so we should not be only their vessel to the next generation of Muslims. maybe former scholars in 9th century for example had reasons to believe in something that we now don’t have any reason to agree with that. Islam today and in the future will be different but not because we are/will be less faithful, this is only because we will be more cautious to ascribe to Islam anything with loose reasons ((which our ancestors may found it solid and will be rewarded according to their deeds and intention)).

    5- the key of the solution of all Muslim problems is in education&acquiring knowledge. may god help us with this intention and may he be pleased with this diligent and intelligent writer, Myriam Francois Cerrah who is the source of pride and hope for the next generation of Muslim women.

    thnx for ur good piece


    March 5, 2012 at 00:39

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